“Father of Democracy” Calls on Gov’t to Heed Demonstrators’ Demands


Following another weekend of mass protests in Hong Kong, this marks 13 weeks of protesters calling for greater political freedom and the scrapping of a controversial extradition bill with China. For the past two days, thousands of students have boycotted the beginning of classes. On Sunday, protesters returned to Hong Kong’s airport, where they barricaded roads in an attempt to shut down the airport again. On Saturday, police fired tear gas and water cannons during a chaotic night of street demonstrations. Some masked protesters were seen throwing Molotov cocktails at the police. Earlier today, Carrie Lam denied she ever offered to resign. From Hong Kong, we speak with Martin Lee, the founding chair of the Democratic Party of Hong Kong.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: “The end is coming for those attempting to disrupt Hong Kong and antagonise China.” That was the message in an editorial in China’s state news agency Sunday following another weekend of mass protests in Hong Kong. For 13 weeks, protesters have been calling for greater political freedom and the scrapping of a controversial extradition bill with China. For the past two days, thousands of students have boycotted the beginning of classes. On Sunday, protesters returned to Hong Kong’s airport, where they barricaded roads in an attempt to shut down the airport again.

AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday, police fired tear gas and water cannons during a chaotic night of street demonstrations. Some masked protesters were seen throwing Molotov cocktails at the police. While the protests intensified, Chinese state television has broadcast footage of paramilitary police conducting drills in the border city of Shenzhen, with a caption that read, “Able to attack at any time!”

We go now to Hong Kong, where we’re joined by Martin Lee, a former politician, founding chair of the Democratic Party of Hong Kong. He’s been nicknamed the “Father of Democracy” in Hong Kong.

Martin Lee, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you explain what’s happening and the significance as the protests enter the fourth month? How have these protests changed? And are you concerned about Chinese police and authorities coming over from the mainland?

MARTIN LEE: Well, we are also facing a hurricane of great proportions of another different kind, the political hurricane which has been hitting us for months now. It can be stopped by the Hong Kong government, but they are not doing anything. And indeed, the Hong Kong government is dysfunctional.

So, there are riotous situations in Hong Kong by the demonstrators, but they are only damaging government property. But the police, in carrying out their duties, clearly have used excessive force, so they are committing violence of another kind: violence to the person. And the government has been shouting at the demonstrators to stop, but they said nothing in relation to the violence coming from their own police force.

And so, we are still waiting to see when the government actually decides to do something about it. It could certainly stop the whole thing by doing something simple and reasonable: by acceding to some of the very reasonable requests of the demonstrators. For example, by scrapping this bill, which clearly should not have been brought up at all, and also by appointing an independent commission of inquiry, chaired by a judge, for example. And these things can be done, but the government is not doing anything about it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, Martin Lee, Carrie Lam, the administrator, did suspend the extradition law. What are the key demands of the protesters? You’re saying that there are basically two demands, the total abrogation of this law, not just its suspension, and — could you talk about what the key demands are?

AMY GOODMAN: And what the law is?

MARTIN LEE: Well, these are the two key demands, but, of course, there are three others. But these two have the support of a huge percentage of the people of Hong Kong, including the normal supporters of Beijing. We’ve got 80% support of these two reasonable demands. And Carrie Lam said that the bill is as good as dead. Then, my answer is: If it is dead, why don’t you bury it?

And the other is appointment of an independent commission of inquiry. And she says, “No, but it will be investigated into a police body.” Now, that’s not independent. And the British government has been ruling Hong Kong for more than a hundred years. And whenever there is a big thing like that, the answer is always to appoint an independent commission of inquiry, not the one which is in fact concerned with the police only.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask what the ultimate goal of the demonstrations are, and this would also go to what is the extradition bill that people object to so much. Ultimately, is the goal more autonomy for Hong Kong? Is it a protest against authoritarianism of China? Or is it ultimately a protest for independence?

MARTIN LEE: I still think that today in Hong Kong there is not much support at all for independence, because we know that it’s not possible. But there’s a lot of people, young people, who are made very angry by the government, because democracy actually has been promised to Hong Kong, as well as a high degree of autonomy — namely, apart from defense and foreign affairs, which are reserved to the central government, under this British agreement with China, called the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which also promised that Hong Kong people would be masters of our own house, so there would be democracy, and under the Basic Law, we were promised that we could have genuine universal suffrage 10 years after the handover. But this is already the 23rd year, and we don’t even have a date now before us as to when we can achieve this ultimate aim. So, Hong Kong people now want, more than anything else, the high degree of autonomy and democracy, both of which have been promised. We are not asking for anything more than what’s already promised.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Martin Lee, what do you make of some reports that Carrie Lam has indicated that she would like to quit but feels she can’t? Is there any conflict, from your sense, between the Hong Kong authorities and the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government authorities at this point?

MARTIN LEE: I don’t know what exactly happened. Only she can tell. But she has been saying one thing and then denying it later. Now, it is certainly not inconceivable at all, and in fact I think it’s very likely, that a person with her background — she was a civil servant, trained by the British — to actually offer her resignation, when it is obvious to her that she can’t do anything about this stalemate. But, of course, knowing Beijing, as some of us do, by observing the track record, the Beijing government will not permit her to do so. The Beijing government wants her to clear up the mess before, perhaps, they will then let her go, and appoint another chief executive to succeed her with a clean slate. So it is not surprising at all that even if she had tendered resignation, which she now denies having done, Beijing would not accept it.

AMY GOODMAN: Your message, Martin Lee, to those in mainland China who see the Hong Kong protests as a kind of Western coup challenging China’s control of the territory? You came to the United States in May. You met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. What was your message, and also your response to those who see this as the West is behind what’s happening with these protests in Hong Kong?

MARTIN LEE: Well, although the agreement is between Britain and China — it’s called the Joint Declaration, registered with the United Nations — when it was first announced in September 1984, both governments actually wanted the international community to support the agreement, by lobbying for support from the U.S. government and a lot of other governments, so that the immigration tide from Hong Kong would cease. So, these governments did give their public support, and the immigration tide stopped at the time.

So, it is certainly open to these foreign governments to raise the matter with the Chinese government and say, “Look here, you wanted us to support your ‘one country, two systems’ policy. We did support it. We still support it. But now you are not honoring it. You are not honoring what you promised, the promises you made to the people of Hong Kong and to the international community.” So, we raised these matters with your Congress and also with Mike Pompeo and said, “Look, things are not going rightly for Hong Kong, and you owe the Hong Kong people at least a moral obligation to speak up for us, when you actually agreed with China to intervene back in 1984 to” —

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